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Ruth Lafler | Mar 29, 200203:00 PM     23

My official family birthday dinner was last night at Chapeau!

First the good news: the food was for the most part excellent. In my chowhound persona trying things I've never tried before I had the seared foie gras -- not at all what I had imagined, very good, but I'm not sure I quite understand the extent of the fuss. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying their dishes. My normally undemonstrative father made pleased noises over the asparagus soup; I thought the cassoulet was excellent; my mother practically licked the plate of her rack of lamb; my brother-in-law praised both the oysters and the vegetarian ravioli dish. About the only dish that didn't quite make it was the monkfish, which was deemed bland. Wine service was great, Phillippe was charming.

But ... (I can hear you waiting for the but) ... by the end of the meal I was quite annoyed with the service. At times it seemed overly fussy and intrusive, but worse, at critical points it simply disappeared. Long wait for our entrees (okay, probably the kitchen, not the waitstaff). Wait for dessert menus. Waited at least 20 minutes for someone to take our dessert order -- I had to flag down the waiter. Coffee etc. didn't arrive until well after dessert was served. Another long wait after dessert had been cleared for the bill -- I finally got up from the table and tracked down someone to ask for it. By this time the restaurant was half empty, so there really was no excuse. Leisurely is fine, but three hours for a three-course meal is a little excessive, especially on a weeknight, and especially if the patrons haven't indicated they want to linger (my father wasn't feeling well).

A couple of other picky points: we had bread plates but no bread (although bread was spotted on other tables). Not that we needed bread, but it was an indicator of another service lapse. One person asked for mineral water instead of an aperitif and they brought two bottles and poured it for the whole table. And on an unrelated pet peeve note, they perpetrated the laughable "fancy wooden box with tea bags" inanity. I guess if I want proper tea service in a French restaurant I'll have to go to Absinthe.

That said, I suspect the service problems were an aberration and I wouldn't hesitate to go back, as the quality of the food -- especially for the price -- was very high, and we had enjoyed the first hour and a half of the meal very much.

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